More women in Canada are participating in the labour market compared with those in the United States.
A new study from Statistics Canada looks at the participation rate of women working or actively looking for work. The study found that over four decades, the rate for women in Canada had soared nearly 60 per cent compared with a 30-per-cent increase among women in the United States.
As of last year, the female work-force participation rate in the country was 81 per cent compared with 74 per cent in the United States.
In the 1970s, the proportion of women in the work force in Canada was smaller than in the United States. By the late 1980s, both cohorts had reached a participation rate of 74 per cent as more women entered the work force. But after 1997, the female participation rate in Canada continued to rise while the U.S. rate started to flatten and decline.
The study said this divergence may reflect the strength of Canada's labour market after the Great Recession, which hit the U.S. harder. The economic downturn "likely stymied employment opportunities for women, especially those with lower levels of education," it said.
In the United States, female participation rates declined for those with high school or college education. But in Canada, the participation rate increased for older women with only high school.
Child-care policies in Canada, such as more generous maternity benefits, may also have helped increase female participation in the labour market. The participation rate for mothers with young children has been higher in Canada than in the United States for three decades.
However, a high participation rate does not mean that women in Canada hold better jobs than their American counterparts. The study shows that as of 2015, both cohorts had similar full-time employment rates. But the overall female employment rate in Canada was higher than in the United States, due to more part-time work.
The study did not look at whether women were working part time because they could not find full-time jobs, nor does the study provide details on the quality of the jobs.
The surge in female work-force participation in Canada has helped narrow the gender gap faster than in the United States. As of last year, the female participation rate was nine percentage points lower than the male rate in Canada, compared with a 14-percentage-point gender gap in the United States. In 1976, the gender gap was 43 percentage points in Canada versus a 37-percentage-point difference south of the border.
Over the past few years, the female participation rate in Canada has also started to flatten, suggesting that their engagement in the labour market has peaked.
"You get to a point where all the women who want to be in the work force are in the work force," said David Watt, chief economist with HSBC Bank Canada.
Mr. Watt questioned how the labour force will continue to grow, especially as baby boomers start retiring en masse. "Where are the workers going to come from?" he said. "It will be a more pressing issue as more baby boomers age."
The study looked at prime-aged workers between 25 and 54.